Roundtable: Sara Kruzan Is Out, Mayoral Plans Are In, City Moves Forward On New EMS Provider
MARK SAUER: Welcome. It's Friday, November 1 and I am Mark Sauer. Joining me today are Sara Libby, Amita Sharma and Josh Smith. Seventeen-year-old Sara Kruzan was sentenced in 1994 a sentence of 25 to life in prison for killing a pimp who abused her and forced her to become a child prostitute. This week after a long legal battle she was released. Here's a clip. SARA KRUZAN: I know I deserve punishment, you don't take someone's life and think that is okay. I definitely deserve punishment. How much, I don't know. MARK SAUER: She has spent more than half of her life in prison. Give us the high points. Start by telling us how Sarah was finally able to escape her life sentence. AMITA SHARMA: When her attorneys took over this case of five years ago, they did not have much going for them. She'd been sentenced to life without parole. Riverside prosecutors had already denied her right to show cause. These new lawyers were working pro bono. They take over the case and one of the attorneys read an article about her and was drawn to her situation. They looked at the case and found a sentencing error. At the time she was sent there was a law that a minor could be sentenced to twenty-five years to life and that did not come out. Her defense attorney never brought it up and nor did the judge. MARK SAUER: She was 17 at the time. AMITA SHARMA: They took this to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was the last day of him being in office. He completed her sentence to twenty-five years to life. He also said that he believed she was a victim of intimate domestic battery. She had been a victim of sex trafficking and that helps the case. The Supreme Court in California also granted her the right to show cause. They took that back to prosecutors this year and had real negotiating power. The reduced her conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder and that made her eligible for parole. MARK SAUER: She just got out this week? AMITA SHARMA: She got out yesterday. MARK SAUER: I will ask about her background in a moment. It seems like eighteen years now since his case, it seems like we have a whole different posture in society about abusive relationships and child prostitution. It seems as if the witnesses voices have raised the issue. AMITA SHARMA: Sentencing laws in California have been pushing for getting offenders out of prisons because of the overcrowding and healthcare issues. It's easy for the public to latch onto cases where there is sympathy. MARK SAUER: Maybe this woman is not a real murderer, this is a one-time situation. AMITA SHARMA: Sarah was born into a brutal environment. Her mother would fly at her with rages or she would beat her. She also introduced her to her boyfriends and she was molested by them starting at the age of five. At the age of ten her mom kicked her out of the house and for a time she was taken by CPS and spent time in the foster home. She met a guy who became her pimp. She come considered him to be a father figure. He would take her places and lavish her with gifts but then he raped her in forced her into prostitution. MARK SAUER: How much of this came out? AMITA SHARMA: Her defense attorney never called witnesses. MARK SAUER: That factors in as well. Describe how the former governor had another crack at the legal system, what was the reaction of in Riverside County prosecutors? AMITA SHARMA: In January, their sense was she has done her time. MARK SAUER: That was ten months ago. It took that long? JOSHUA SMITH: How much of this do you think this is a change in thinking around sex trafficking? Much of this is this particular circumstances you describe that are very common for women who have been prostituted. AMITA SHARMA: The public is far more aware today of sex trafficking of children. We have prosecutors who have made an effort to shine a bright light on this problem. It still exists, and in her case I do not know how much attention it would have gotten. People are still being trafficked now. Somebody told me, she had been a prostitute herself and been forced into it as a teenager, and she said she was a black girl from the ghetto and nobody cared. MARK SAUER: How did she conduct herself in prison? AMITA SHARMA: She has earned a college degree ñ an associate's degree ñ and was a mentor to other inmates. She was a leader in various prison groups, she lived in the honored dorm. That is going to serve her very well as she moves forward. MARK SAUER: She is out as of the other day. With that, what is specifically going on? AMITA SHARMA: She tis in housing in Orange County and will go through psychological counseling. The world has changed tremendously, so she has a lot to adjust to. We hear also that she has five or six job offers. Her future looks bright, hopefully she is enjoying the first few hours of her freedom. MARK SAUER: We move onto another story about the potential mayors of San Diego and asked them what their plans are. Our reporter details the many plans of the current candidates this week. Start with a high points. Tell us where these folks are going. SARA LIBBY: There a lot of plans. There is a plan for where a lot of these plans hinge on this concept of bringing attention back to certain neighborhoods. Taking the focus away from downtown projects in development and improving neighborhoods. It's gotten to the point where at least three of Kevin Faulkner's plans actually have neighborhood in the wording. The neighborhood fairness plan etc. Not just lip service, but incorporate the idea of neighborhood infrastructure repair and public safety. AMITA SHARMA: Do think it will work with voters? SARA LIBBY: I think the voters have been receptive to this idea in general. That is why you see them latching on to something there. It's interesting when you see candidates like Nathan Fletcher and Faulkner who in the past funded for big downtown projects are turning to a new idea. Voters are interested in spreading city resources around. MARK SAUER: On these plans, are there big differences among these candidates? SARA LIBBY: They have all introduced unique ideas. Fletcher wants to reopen some police stations. Faulkner has expressed ideas about working with businesses to develop after school programs. They have introduced unique ideas ñ but not giving specifics ñ for example, where will we get the money. MARK SAUER: Always it comes back to the money. JOSHUA SMITH: This plan seemed a little vague to me. There's always one question for me, are you going to take the people who live in the city and make them better off? Or are you going to try to make the city more affluent and bring in new people and remake what San Diego is? For me, it seems like at least two of the candidates are looking to remake San Diego in a more affluent light. I would say it would be Kevin Faulkner and Nathan Fletcher. I think that David Alvarez ñ given his background ñ is trying to take people who are already in San Diego and give them a better life. SARA LIBBY: Just to build on that, we did a cycle this week on poverty numbers, one third at least of the county's residence are still living in economic hardship. MARK SAUER: We're working on a story about that right now. And now we have foodstamps and food banks being cut and all sorts of problems, we will see how the new mayor will be dealing with these issues. You touch on public safety and police, let's talk about that. What are the plans for police and fire? People are retiring faster than new recruits are coming in. SARA LIBBY: The idea of retention is something they have all sort of seized on. The idea that we are losing more officers faster than we're getting more new officers. It is relatively uncompetitive in San Diego for pay and benefits. They all have ideas for reopening police stations and partnering with businesses. The police department five year plan to recruit new officers has a high price tag of $66 million. Faulkner skimmed the surface with ideas like lowering health care costs, but they are lacking in specifics as far as where we're going to get the money. MARK SAUER: We have to remind the audience that this is a primary and is going to have a runoff that will happen later. They don't want to get too specific early on. You want to get out there into it a few months before you show all of your plans. JOSHUA SMITH: I agree that true Fletcher seems to be very vague. SARA LIBBY: I don't think they need to be counting dollars and cents here. We want to know if you going to affect libraries and fire stations, a general idea of where this is coming from. Give people a strong sense of who to vote for. MARK SAUER: Come Monday they're going to pick up a issue of linkage fees. Hitting up developers for more fees, costing more for the permitting, and it all gets to the question where is the revenue coming from? No one is going to say we're going to raise taxes. JOSHUA SMITH: Everyone is reluctant say that. MARK SAUER: There was something in terms of the issues with high school transcripts. SARA LIBBY: We revealed really significant findings, such as Faulkner got an A+ in advanced surfing. Crucial issues that voters will cling to. I take issue with the idea that the college transcripts were lumped together with a call for transparency on campaign candidates. Candidates making public calendars available. These issues are direct tie-ins with who they would react with in office. Meanwhile the public wants to know about college transcripts and where you got it. I don't think that is fair. I think it's sort of a chance for us to leer at these weird details. I'm not sure it even has a place. It has come up that because Fletcher is refusing to release his transcripts, people have seized on the question what is he hiding. He's clearly been successful at is this, in the military and in office. I'm not sure that it is really worth holding him back for that. Maybe he got a few bad grades, it doesn't matter. There been great presidents who have not performed well academically. It is not a strong indicator of how someone will perform in the office. MARK SAUER: We will move on to our next story. People calling 911 with an emergency expect an ambulance to arrive in minutes to their houses, but they do not. For years San Diego's main ambulance provider has benefited from a loophole. There been a lot of problems here with Rural Metro. JOSHUA SMITH: This is resulted in thousands of late 911 calls. This came to our attention in 2011 that this could be a problem. It seems to come the attention of the City Council now. We have a chance putting projects on hold to draw up a new contract. The process is now going forward as an announcement by Todd Gloria this week. That means Rural Metro will still be our ambulance provider until January 2015. But when they go to renew the contract in June, they're going to try to negotiate away the exemptions. We do not know how rural Metro will respond yet, but it does seem as though the city Council is taking the issue a lot more seriously than they have in the past. SARA LIBBY: What has prevented them from taking seriously the past? JOSHUA SMITH: It is baffling to me why this is not been discussed more thoroughly. MARK SAUER: More than 90% of 911 calls in the city are medical calls and yet a firetruck does show up to the scene first, in general. The reason for that is fire stations have to be equidistant and strategically placed around the city to shorten response times. And they have emergency response crew and EMT on board. Why don't we just get ambulances and take them over to the fire department. See if they would bid for the fire department to take this over. JOSHUA SMITH: Yes the fire department shows up before the ambulance. They must be on scene within seven minutes. That is if someone was having cardiac arrest, any life threatening situations. Critical that they get there first to do life saving operations until the ambulance arrives. The fire union would like to take over the whole operation. See if it would be viable for the fire department to bid on this. There are a lot of questions to bring up and it's more important to address the problem with Rural Metro. We can come back in three or four years and start up the RFP process again and allow the fire department to get their ducks in a row and submit a successful bid later. MARK SAUER: Did the city set money aside? JOSHUA SMITH: They set aside a hundred thousand dollars but we do not know what they've done with that money. I am assuming that it will be spent on things the next few years like on equipment. How will they be able to continue the operation, buy ambulances and everything that is already privately contracted by Rural Metro. MARK SAUER: In other cities do they see this problem? Other fire departments who have fixed this successfully? JOSHUA SMITH: There is a mix of fire-based EMS and private companies running the ambulance service. Rural Metro is San Francisco's fire-based EMS. There is precedence for both. MARK SAUER: Can we look at bottom line outcomes of response times? JOSHUA SMITH: That might be solved with having a new contract. Whether the fire department should take over as the EMS provider is a separate issue to the response times. Right now they run between 25 to 35 ambulances at Rural Metro. If fire departments fill this role will will be taking up more of their resources and spread thin and Rural Metro will be forced into sending in their ambulances anyway. MARK SAUER: If they're going to this send the fire department firetruck in anyway why not to send an ambulance from that fire station. The fire department union wants this contract. JOSHUA SMITH: Make the fire union stronger here in San Diego. That is one thing that they would like to do is take the EMTs that work of ambulances now and create a track that someone could work their way up to be a firefighter. This is the job progression now - that is often how it works - but there have been complaints that Rural Metro pays their employees that so little that people quit or go to another market. MARK SAUER: So burnout, fatigue, and competition. JOSHUA SMITH: These people are working twelve hour shifts at low wages, sometimes without sleep or a chance to eat. It's an important service and it needs to be fixed right away. MARK SAUER: What about the City Council to see support for the status quo? JOSHUA SMITH: In Wednesday's public safety meeting when this came up they said in the new contract, or when we renew Rural Metro's contract the exemptions have to go. MARK SAUER: So we we carry on about this is and have one more year of this contract. We will have to leave it there. All of the stories we discussed are available on the website at KPBS.org. Thank you for joining us today on the Roundtable.
Sara Kruzan Out of Prison
Sara Kruzan, who was sentenced at the age of 17 to die in prison, is free. Kruzan was convicted of killing her pimp in a Riverside motel.
She contended that he had sexually and physically abused her and groomed her from the age of 10 to work as a child prostitute. The judge acknowledged her horrific life but said the crime of first-degree murder warranted a life conviction.
Human Rights Watch posted an interview with Kruzan on YouTube in 2010 in which she tells her story and yet expresses remorse. She says, yes, she deserves prison, but asks: for how long?
The video resulted in Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger commuting her sentence to 25 years to life, giving her the possibility of parole.
In January 2013, a Riverside judge reduced her murder conviction to second-degree, making her immediately eligible for parole. Governor Jerry Brown signed her parole order and, after 19 years in prison, she was released on Thursday, Oct. 31, from Chowchilla prison.
Had Kruzan committed this crime today, many legal experts believe her sentence would have been much more lenient. Because it was so harsh, her case became a cause celébré for advocates of softer prison sentences for juveniles.
By all accounts, Kruzan was a model prisoner, earning an associate's degree from a community college and exhibiting both maturity and possibility.
California State Senator Leland Yee sponsored two successful bills because of the Kruzan case. One provides that juveniles already sentenced to life without parole may now seek new sentence hearings. The other mandates that parole boards give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served more than 15 years.
Mayoral Plans In Vogue
San Diego's top three mayoral candidates, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and Councilman David Alvarez, have all released plans -- lots of them. The major theme here seems to be neighborhoods, as opposed to downtown business and development plans.
There are plans to create jobs and create green jobs. There are plans to strengthen police and fire departments and, somewhat redundantly, keep neighborhoods safe.
All candidates want to fill pot holes, repair sidewalks and — again with the redundancy — tackle the city's very large array of backlogged infrastructure projects.
Not to leave any stone unturned, there are plans to give more attention to neglected neighborhoods, protect water quality, find more water, form partnerships with schools, grow the cross-border economy, eliminate bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and improve transparency.
In addition to all that, Alvarez, Faulconer, Fletcher and former city attorney Mike Aguirre were asked by UT-San Diego Watchdog to release their college transcripts to the media. Alvarez and Faulconer did. Aguirre is working on it. Fletcher said no. Now the question is: So what?
City Goes Forward With EMS RFP
The city of San Diego finally made a decision this week — postponed at least twice — on what do do about its 911 ambulance service. Many city officials were unhappy with the contract with current provider Rural/Metro (except, perhaps, Rural/Metro itself), a contract with a loophole that allows the company’s ambulances to routinely arrive late to 911 calls without penalty.
On Wednesday, Mayor Todd Gloria decided to go ahead with the bidding process for a new provider and issue the delayed request for proposals. The RFP was put on hold by Mayor Jerry Sanders in late 2012 and again this year by Mayor Bob Filner, who wanted to explore having the fire department submit a bid. San Diego Fire and Rescue could not bid to provide emergency services because the department had helped craft the RFP.
The decision to go ahead with the current RFP means SDFR still cannot submit a bid at this point.
Rural/Metro will be offered a contract extension until a new provider is selected. City Council members have said they want the terms of the extension to include fines and penalties for late arrivals to emergency calls.